GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers’ defense didn’t cave as much as it withered Sunday, but what’s the difference? On a day the offense needed as much help as it could get, the defense was a no-show in the second half.

The Packers couldn’t stop New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram. They couldn’t get to quarterback Drew Brees. They couldn’t adjust to the Saints’ speed and personnel groupings. They couldn’t tackle. They couldn’t close on receivers, who kept finding soft spots in the Packers’ zones.

And so a 14-7 halftime lead turned into a 26-17 loss at Lambeau Field.

The Saints went touchdown, field goal, field goal, touchdown in the second half and finished the game in the victory formation.

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The Packers were a step slow to the ball, couldn’t get off the field on third down and didn’t get nearly enough pressure on Brees, who stood in the pocket and picked them apart to the tune of 14 for 18 for 176 yards and a touchdown over the final two quarters. 

“Unfortunately, the second half we obviously didn’t hold our end of the bargain and gave up way too many big plays,” said linebacker Clay Matthews. “It was just too much. Too much.”

The mystery was why the Packers fell apart after a first half in which they intercepted Brees on the Saints’ first two possessions, held him to a quarterback rating of 49.0 and neutralized one of the league’s most prolific offenses.

Defensive lineman Kenny Clark blamed it on a drop-off in energy. Please explain, Kenny, because if that’s all it was then the fix is simple: a case of Red Bull in the locker room at halftime.

“Man, I don’t know,” Clark said. “I just feel like … I honestly don’t know. We’ve got to be better than that, simple as that. We had a great first half. The second half it’s like everything went away from us a little bit. We’ve just got to be better.”

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Nearly everything worked for the Saints. Ingram and Alvin Kamara broke tackles, dragged defenders and combined to rush for 162 yards. Brees used play-action to pick apart the secondary, with Ted Ginn and Michael Thomas sitting down in zones and combining for 14 receptions for 223 yards.

“You don’t know if they’re going to run or pass,” said safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. “You’ve got guys that can run the ball and get downhill. When guys are doing that it’s kind of hard to stop them.”

Second and 12, third and 9, third and 6, second and 9 – the Packers kept putting the Saints in negative down-and-distance situations and Brees and his receivers kept making plays.

“They have a great group of guys at every position – tight end, receiver, running back – that are able to space you out,” said linebacker Blake Martinez. “You have to be able to defend anything.”

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Instead, the Packers could defend nothing.

With Brett Hundley making his first start at quarterback for Green Bay and struggling to move the offense, the defense fell flat. What this means for the long term is anyone’s guess, but with Aaron Rodgers likely to miss the rest of the season, this kind of performance won’t get the Packers to 6-10, let alone to the playoffs.

“Man, we’ve got to play better,” Clinton-Dix said. “We’ve just got to play better than that.”

He’ll get no argument here.

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